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#NVLeg: Environmental Bills Top Of Mind For Peters

The East Walker River meanders through northern Nevada. Trees and brush line the banks. Reeds stick out of the shallows.
Noah Glick
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KUNR Public Radio
A look at the East Walker River from Pitchfork Ranch, which is part of the Walker River State Recreation Area in Nevada.

Water is arguably the most precious natural resource in Nevada. And as climate change increases the threat of drought in the country’s driest state, some lawmakers are looking to protect Nevada’s waters. KUNR’s political editor Paul Boger spoke with Democratic Assemblywoman Sarah Peters of Reno about a set of bills she’s introduced looking to do just that.

Paul Boger: Assemblywoman, you've introduced a few environmental bills this session. Before we dive into them, I wanted to touch on your experience in the area. I know it's something that's very close to your heart, correct?

Sarah Peters is looking at the camera and smiling. She is wearing a black shit and has purple streaks in her hair.
Credit Photo Courtesy of Sarah Peters
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Democrat Sarah Peters represents Reno in Nevada Assembly District 24.

Sarah Peters: Well, my background is in environmental engineering, regulatory permitting and compliance. So I live my day job in the regulatory process of environmental everything, whether it's water or air. I deal with federal government issues and state government issues, as well as tribal government issues.

So coming into the legislature, I knew I wanted to have impact on how we address and protect our resources, our environmental resources. This session, I took a stab at it with a water bill that I'm calling the "Water Bill of Rights," which addresses some of the holes in our water quality issues. And a mining bad actors bill that really sets a standard for the mining industry of the quality of corporations that we like to have in the state of Nevada.

Boger: So let's talk about that mining bill first. It would essentially prevent mining companies or industry officials without standing state fines from continuing to operate in Nevada. Is that a common problem?

Peters: Our industry generally plays a pretty responsible role in environmental stewardship, as it pertains to reclamation, which is what the bad actor bill really touches on. Ensuring that our industry and industry players are held accountable for the reclamation that they promise related to their exploration or mining projects. To me, this is really standardizing what is best practices in the state of Nevada to ensure that we're protecting that standard and protecting the industry, but also our lands.

Boger: Switching gears, I want to dig a bit deeper into this water bill. It essentially looks to increase water pollution mitigation efforts. Can you break this proposal down for me?

Peters: What I wanted to do in the state of Nevada is get ahead of contaminants before they get into our water systems. We're in a unique space in Nevada where most of our water systems are contained in the state. We don't have a discharge to a large body of water like the ocean. So any contaminants that go into our systems really stay there. Then downstream users end up having to address those contaminants as they put that water towards beneficial use. So in a situation with drinking water, a downstream drinking water system would have to treat contaminated water, and that cost gets passed on to the community who is drinking that water. I want to pay more attention to the upstream inputs and ensure that we are putting resources towards mitigating those inputs before they contaminate the system.

Boger: Of course, when you say inputs, I know we're talking about contaminants. Would this bill apply to residential properties, or is it more aimed at industry itself?

Peters: The management of the input would affect, I think, industry more than residential. Residential discharges are just not as high of a concern. It's not as great of a contamination potential as those industry players, where you have the potential to get quite a bit of contaminants into a water system. However, the impact on downstream users would predominantly affect residential users. It would also impact downstream users who use that water for agricultural applications or other applications that would require treatment if the contaminant load gets too high.

Boger: And what industries, in particular, do you believe would be affected by this bill?

Peters: The predominant sources that I can imagine, off the top of my head, include agricultural runoff and industry runoff from cleared lands. The more of a fertilizer you apply to your land, the more potential for runoff of that fertilizer. That is lost money, right? Cause the fertilizers then go into a system that has no use for it, and it just contaminates the system. So we have resources that offer application efficiencies, right? And we can mobilize those. We just don't have the coordination between our agencies to do that. This bill [would help] put that into effect.

Paul Boger is a former reporter at KUNR Public Radio.
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